In 1853, the countries of France and Russia went to war over the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land. This land was at that time a part of the Ottoman Empire whose capital was Constantinople. The French supported the Roman Catholics. Napoleon III of France believed he could gain favor with the Catholics if he opposed the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Russians supported the Eastern Orthodox Church. Also in play was the fear that Russia was intending to expand into Europe.
Nicholas I of Russia said that the Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire should be under his control. A compromise was worked out by the British who wanted to make a deal to try to satisfy the Ottomans, but the Ottomans refused to agree to it. Russia got ready for war. The Ottomans declared war on Russia in October, 1853. France and Britain said they would help the Ottomans. The war began in what later came to be the area in and around Yugoslavia called the Balkans.
The British and French went in to help the Ottomans during a few battles in 1854 but weren't accomplishing much against the Russians. The British and French people wanted action, so the two countries decided to attack the Russian stronghold of Sevastopol in Crimea on the Black Sea. Crimea is a peninsula which juts out into the Black Sea from the north.
They were successful in fighting their way south after a few battles. On October 25, 1854, the Russians were driven back at the Battle of Balaclava. A band of cavalry called the Heavy Brigade fought hand to hand and forced the Russians to retreat. A British commander, Lord Raglan, ordered more of the cavalry to go across a valley to destroy some Russian guns. When the order came down from above, a unit called the Light Brigade under the Earl of Cardigan went against the wrong guns across the valley. The British troops sustained huge losses.
The Charge of the Light Brigade became a famous poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. At first, in history, the charge of the Light Brigade seemed a terrible waste of life and slaughter. 278 of the 700 cavalry were killed. However, recent historians agree that the charge did accomplish the purpose of driving the Russians to full flight after they had been hit by the Heavy Brigade.
Nicholas ordered another Russian attack, but the Ottoman leader, Omar Pasha, defeated the Russians. A siege of Sevastopol followed. After Sevastopol fell eleven months later, other allied countries joined the British and French. Russia was afraid of invasion from the west, so asked for peace in March, 1856. The Treaty of Paris was signed on March 30. Terms of the treaty said that Russia could not keep ships in the Black Sea. Wallachia and Moldavia became independent from Russia.
The Crimean War became a symbol for everything which was done wrong in a war situation. Mismanagement, faulty tactical maneuvers, confused logistics and medical problems occurred in great numbers. Great Britain demanded that the tactics of war become more professional.
Worldwide health care reform began in the Crimean War due to the efforts of a nurse called Florence Nightingale. She was born in Italy in 1820. Against her family's wishes and the idea that women could not pursue a profession, she studied in Germany and became a nurse. After working in her profession for several years in England, she was asked her to organize a team of nurses to go to the battlefront in the Crimea. She and her team of about three dozen nurses went to a British hospital in the Crimean theater of war and corrected many unsanitary conditions they found. Many lives were saved. Afterwards, she began St. Thomas' Hospital in London and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses.
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